A case study in cause marketing: Star-Ledger does good while doing well


In October 2011, my INMA blog post, “Sea Change in Local News Coverage: Multimedia Newsrooms,” referenced the evolution of our 24/7 multi-media newsroom in the context of the Star-Ledger/NJ.com’s coverage of Hurricane Irene.

One year later, in October 2012, New Jersey was dealt an even greater blow by Hurricane Sandy. In this column, I would like to reflect on the Star-Ledger’s response to Hurricane Sandy from a different perspective – cause marketing.

First, let me assure the reader that our newsroom staff was equally if not more on the spot with timely/comprehensive news coverage, despite having to operate like nomads as they moved operations several times in search of power and connectivity.

And our company’s financial contribution to the recovery fund was extremely generous, especially since our own operations and revenues were adversely impacted.

The effects of Hurricane Sandy were so devastating that it profoundly impacted the psyche of the people of New Jersey. And its impact on our 130+ miles of coastal communities not only destroyed homes and communities, it also threatened the economic livelihood of individuals and businesses, especially in those communities dependent on summer tourism.

The images of destruction were so compelling that many would-be summer visitors assumed there might not be a shore to visit in 2013. Worse, many media outlets continued to show the dramatic photos of disaster long after repairs and reconstruction had restored roads, bridges, and structures.

I was proud of our newsroom for quickly shifting our coverage from “before and after” to “after and now,” highlighting and advocating for the efforts of residents, businesses, and civic organisations to rebuild.

But the Advance New Jersey/Star-Ledger business development team is also to be congratulated, and I would like to note their comprehensive efforts to “Do Good While Doing Well” in this blog.

All of the efforts outlined below were part of a comprehensive, overall effort and, with the exception of the book, were presented and/or promoted in both print and digital form:

  • Book publishing: A team composed of Star-Ledger newsroom and marketing staff worked with Pediment Publishing to quickly assemble a chronicle of our coverage, “When Sandy Hit: The Storm that Forever Changed New Jersey,” which was offered as a keepsake in hardcover format.

    We teamed up with the Community Foundation for New Jersey, the organisation raising relief funds, and developed a creative campaign that helped raise funds while also marketing the book. Partial proceeds from the book were also contributed to rebuilding efforts.

    Was it a success? The book has sold through two printings and we might do a third. The fundraising effort was successful beyond expectation. 
  • Magazine publishing: Inside New Jersey, the Star-Ledger’s monthly magazine, dedicated its May cover and feature to messaging to readers that the Jersey Shore is back and ready for summer, urging readers to make their plans to visit their favourite destinations and help in the economic recovery by doing so.

    This special offering was sponsored by a major realty firm and a building supply firm that both have significant customer bases in shore communities.

  • Newspaper publishing: “Back To The Shore” was a 48-page newsprint section collaboratively produced and distributed during the third week of May in more than a dozen Advance-owned properties in New Jersey and neighbouring parts of New York and Pennsylvania.

    Written and edited by the Star-Ledger news staff, it provided the most comprehensive guide to the New Jersey shore we have ever produced. And it was also full of sponsorship (most notably the cable TV provider and a major appliance retailer) and advertising targeting the shore region’s recovery.

  • Event marketing: Working with our magazine and newspaper sponsors, the Star-Ledger worked with the Jersey Shore Convention and Visitors Bureau to create a new “Opening Day: Jersey Shore Open For Business” consumer event at historic Monmouth Park Racetrack.

    More than 80 shore businesses exhibited and introduced themselves to thousands of attendees during an eventful day of thoroughbred racing and special contests and drawings. 

  • Commemorative event: In October 2013, the Star-Ledger will co-present a museum exhibit featuring our photo and video coverage of Hurricane Sandy, including a special screening of “Splinters & Sand,” the newsroom-produced documentary on the anniversary of Hurricane Sandy.

All in all, the point of this blog is twofold:

First, to showcase solid news coverage, enterprise, and entrepreneurial efforts that speak to the new, multi-media model of our industry.

Second, to illustrate once again the value of cause marketing. The Star-Ledger made many new friends in the business and consumer community with its support of appropriate messaging and economic recovery. We raised funds and awareness while creating new revenue and building brand equity.

And I guess there is a third point to this blog, and that would be to salute the talented and resourceful individuals at the Star-Ledger, NJ.com, and Advance New Jersey newspapers who made it all happen – often while dealing with their own recovery issues at home.

Hurricane Sandy did its worst to New Jersey, but it brought out the best in many New Jerseyans.

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